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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Mr. Brightside

We hung the Christmas lights around the house this weekend, so forgive me, but I’m done with the doom and gloom for a little while. There will always be doom and gloom out there about Apple. Something about Apple, more than maybe any other company, demands it.

(I have theories, oh yes I do. Apple has it in its DNA to do things differently than other companies—and lots of people in the media and financial worlds simply hate companies that don’t behave like other companies. Apple’s legacy of being the “other company” to Microsoft’s dominance of the 90s, and its near-death experience in the late 90s, also contribute to the expectation that Apple’s just a failure that forgot to fail. Look, I started writing about Apple just at the point where it looked like it was about to nose dive into certain death. I have thought about this a lot.)

But no! No more negativity here! We can debate and quibble and complain, and I think that’s all pretty healthy, but sometimes it can mean that we don’t see the forest for the trees. So let’s back up.

Apple is one of the biggest and most successful companies ever. There it is. It can’t be debated. As they say in sports, “flags fly forever.” (People who don’t do sports: That means that when you win the World Series or the Super Bowl or whatever, they can’t ever take that away from you.) No matter what happens in the future, Apple’s renaissance under Steve Jobs after that near-death experience in the 90s, its altering of the trajectory of how we use technology with the iPhone, its enormous profits and stock market success, all of that is going down in the history books.

People who are defensive about Apple and feel the need to protect it from all imagined slights need to get a little perspective. Apple’s not just fine, it’s more than fine. It is one of the giants of our modern world. I read somewhere that at its current rate of spending, Apple could literally stop selling products and still operate for decades, due to the amount of cash it still has on hand. Apple’s not going anywhere. And it’s got room to make mistakes. Not that the company should try to make mistakes, but if it makes them, it’s got the wherewithal to correct course—more than once, even.

The Mac is doing better than it’s ever done. The past few years have been the most successful years the Mac has ever had. More people are using Macs today than have ever done so in the 33 year history of the product. Let that sink in: This is the heyday of the Mac. When we talk about how exciting the future of iOS is, when we complain about some of Apple’s Mac product design decisions over the past few years, when we note the slowing pace of feature additions to macOS, we should also realize that in many ways this is the best the Mac has ever done. It’s growing in a contracting PC market. This past fiscal year, Macs generated more revenue than in any previous year. (A couple of years ago, Apple sold a few more Macs, but the average selling price was a little lower then.)

The iPhone rules. You’ll catch a few holdouts out there who don’t understand how business works—ironically, they usually style themselves as analysts—who look at market share and declare the iPhone a failure as a product because there are far more Android phones than iPhones out there. And yet most of the world has realized the truth: Apple makes more money from the smartphone market than any other company, and only Samsung is even close. The App Store is healthier than Google Play. Apple’s customers are the best customers. Apple doesn’t have a majority of the market, but it has a majority of the strongest part of the market.

At the same time, I see Apple being expansive with the iPhone: The company continues to be committed to expanding the range of the product line, and the recent rumors that the iPhone SE is going to be updated (and built in a factory in India) are a good example. As I’ve said dozens of times, Apple is never going to be the Low Price Leader. But it can still be competitive across a range of prices and in many markets. There was a time, in the dark days, when Apple would release the equivalent of the $999 iPhone X and be content. Today’s Apple wants to sell you an expensive iPhone X if you want to buy one, but it’ll also let you buy an iPhone 8, or 7, or 6S, or SE.

The iPad’s back. Apple seems to have figured out the iPad, and the market seems to be responding. By splitting the iPad line in two—creating a lower-priced iPad and higher-priced iPad Pro models—it’s made things clearer. I am an unabashed fan of the iPad Pro, and it seems that the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro model has helped boost iPad sales. The iPad, because it’s not as expensive as the Mac, doesn’t generate as much revenue as the Mac does—but Apple actually sells more iPads than Macs. Which presumably means there are more iPads than Macs out there. Is that meaningful? I don’t know—it’s comparing apples and oranges, to a certain extent. But I do think it tells us, at the very least, that the iPad is a product with a user base and a following and isn’t going anywhere.

Perspective. Is everything perfect? No, of course not. Apple has challenges in the short term, the medium term, and the long term. Some Mac design decisions recently have been controversial, but there’s some preliminary evidence that Apple has changed direction in terms of professional Mac hardware. We’ll know a lot more in 2018. The iPad’s turnaround is recent enough that it feels a little bit tenuous, for now. The iPhone is such a huge part of Apple’s business that any slowdown in smartphone sales could make an outsized impact.

Cloud services are a huge part of the future of the tech industry, and while Apple seems to be excelling at extracting more service revenue from its customers, it’s also threatened by the cloud expertise of its competitors. The smartphone may be subsumed by other technology that Apple hasn’t yet mastered, such as augmented reality and virtual reality. The list goes on…

…but you know what? Sometimes you need to get that perspective and live in the moment. Apple will have challenges, it will make mistakes, and it may cease being one of the biggest and most important companies in the world. But right now, it makes a pretty impressive array of products, from ones that would be instantly recognizable to someone from ten or twenty years ago (Mac stuff, mostly) to ones that would seem like science fiction to those same people (iPhone X, AirPods, iPad, Apple Watch).

As someone who remembers when it was entirely possible that the entire Apple world could disappear in a matter of months, who faced the possibility that all of the hardware and software tools I used to do my job might become completely irrelevant in a year or two, I am struck by how comfortable things are now. Nothing’s perfect and nothing’s forever, but I’ve got a 5K iMac floating over my desk, an iPad Pro in my hand, an Apple Watch on my wrist, AirPods in my ears, and an iPhone X in my pocket. Things are pretty good. It’s worth remembering that, now and then.

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